Dear 100 Hour Board alumni,
Thank you for writing and for your commitment to this community that really helped me get through 2 degrees at BYU (2009-2015). I was reading the board yesterday and felt inspired by the way people have changed after BYU--I wonder if you could speak to your hope (or lack thereof) for positive changes in the church or church-adjacent communities? I don't practice anymore since I've been rejected for being a woman who married a woman, and when I've read the board occasionally after leaving BYU, I consider it to be a sort of barometer for possible changes in the culture/church. I would love to hear your perspectives on hope (or otherwise).
Can I be frank?
The changes going on with the Church and its culture are not nearly enough, and they aren't happening fast enough. People who pat themselves and the Church on the back typically aren't being harmed by the current state of things, and that is beyond frustrating to me. I love the people I know who are involved, and I think that one day the Church will have values more in line with mine now. That doesn't change the fact that it isn't enough, it won't be enough, it hasn't been enough, and the people who are hurt are constantly being cajoled or shamed into accepting the table scraps that there are.
That being said, I've always thought the Board was some of the best that the culture has to offer, and it has changed rapidly since I was a writer in 2008-10. It was very, very different back then. I called myself the Black Sheep for a reason, and I'm not really that far out there anymore. That is encouraging. There are good people here and in the Church at large.
But it. Is. Not. Enough.
You're some kind of a woman who loves women. Me too. I guess I feel like hope in these situations is dangerous. It's easy to get your hopes up and then have your heart broken all over again. I think some folks will just say that is lazy cynicism, but the alternative can really be dangerous, especially for youth and more vulnerable populations. So be careful, have support that will absolutely have your back outside of the structure, and meet your needs, you beautiful human. Say hi to your wife for me.
- The Black Sheep
Congratulations on your wedding! I hope that you and your wife have a lifetime full of happiness together and that you find spiritual peace, whether that's outside of the church or otherwise. I know how it feels to be alienated from the church because of your LGBT identity, and it hurts to have the community you grew up in make you feel like you don't belong anymore. Wishing you and your wife the best in finding closure.
As far as BYU in particular, I do think things are changing–they changed so much in the few years that I was a student there and seem to be still changing for the better. When I was a freshman, a trans former student said that they never heard of a BYU student transitioning and believed they would be kicked out. In my time at BYU, I met (and became one of) several trans men and women who were able to transition and graduate. Personally, I never faced discrimination from professors or students (besides a couple of roommates who more just asked weirdly invasive questions than actually harassed me)–the only people I ever had trouble with were administration officials. Even then, they were kind–it just takes a long time for policies to change, especially at a traditional and fairly conservative college like BYU.
LGBTQ policies are still far from perfect at BYU, but I think they're heading in the right direction. From what I've seen, it seems that the people are changing but the Church policies themselves are, well, slow to change. But the little things give me hope. It gives me hope that my former BYU professor grandpa who used to call gay people mentally ill now believes that there's a biological origin to LGBT identity and believes that in time, the policies will change. It gives me hope that my Trump-supporting aunt was the biggest advocate of my transition at the family reunion and reminded people to use my name and pronouns. These things give me hope because it makes me feel like people and cultures can change and find compassion for people whose experiences are different from their own.
As more LGBTQ Latter-day Saints come out and straight/cis members realize that the queer community isn't an enemy but good, kind people who they know and love, I think things will continue to change and I hope for the better. That doesn't mean it's easy to be a queer BYU student or a former or current church member right now. But I think it means that maybe the pain will be worth it and that someday, LGBT members will have a place in the university and in the church. I hope so.
My impression is that a bunch of the recent changes are ones I wholeheartedly am onboard with, and I love that they're happening. I also ache for those who were scolded for feeling the new way while the old one was still viewed as unchanging, and it makes me worry that as-yet-unchanged issues that are even closer to my heart will be reinforced in exactly the interpretations I fear most--I fear my conscience is misaligned with the church (and with truth, if the church is right, which more and more is the expect-what-you-dread trope). And at the same time, I also get a horrible little self-satisfied jaded demon on my shoulder who says the church is giving in too much to the pressures of society and truth should never change and should always be unpopular. (That last one is like believing the strangers who say nasty things about you and thinking your friends are lying you to make you feel better. If you go through it logically, you realize your friends probably have better context and deeper understanding -- you don't really think the thing that doesn't sit right, but man oh man does humanity love to feel uncomfortable at the expense of accuracy. I don't know that that made sense, but it's the best I can do now. Actually, both those things are really two sides of the same horrible coin.)
But for me personally, I was scolded for a lot of those things, or listened to members of my congregations getting all self-righteous about those things and how awful the people who struggle with them are, because they didn't realize they were issues where the church's stance didn't sit right with me or they didn't know that they were failings (or "failings") that I have & hide. Church has gone from mostly uplifting and good for me (in my childhood and teens with my limited experience and few opportunities to mess up), to mostly fine and occasionally great (most of my time at BYU), to mostly painful and occasionally fine and rarely good (in the years soon after BYU), to so painful that not only church hours, but also the hours and days that surround church are painful because of the anticipation or my obsession about the worst bits afterward (in the past yearish). [P.P.P.S -- another way of putting this is that the church helped me form my boundaries of "Us" and "Them," and then as time went on I realized that I am a "Them," not an "Us" according to those boundaries, and what's more, I have spent literal decades trying to become "Us" and failing at it repeatedly. I want to be a member of an all-inclusive "Us," but feeling like an imposter, even an openly-admitted imposter, was/is hurting me.]
Please recognize, readers all, that I know that my mental and emotional pain with the church is not often (or even usually, probably) based on the actual events of real-life church sessions. My brain has created an acid-filled moat with hidden stone spikes around the culture around the hedge around the law, which is probably a simplification of the actual principles, anyway. I know that, logically. But knowing my symptoms are illogical doesn't make those symptoms vanish, and it was getting to the point where I was starting to worry about my own safety if I kept putting myself in that position by attending.
So while I am cautiously optimistic about the general trend of church and church-adjacent changes, I don't see them as something I'm really part of anymore, and I've got cognitive dissonance when my obviously-overgeneralized picture of the average faithful member says they embrace these new revelations (or "revelations") and were always ready to do so, when it's that same fictional member who dug the acid-moat directly under my doctrinal house. Yayyy, mixed metaphors.
P.S. While some members and possibly past me would think my current ... gosh, faith crisis, I guess, though I have to talk down my inner snob who doesn't want to participate in any kind of trendy group or phrase ... is a result of mixing with members who acknowledge their own doubts and going to therapy, I see those things more as things that helped me find my true beliefs (like that faith -- as in hope for things not known but true -- is natural and can co-exist with doubt, and that any just -- as in fair -- gods would love their children and want to see them whole and happy and healthy and helping each other) and helped me see that I was tying myself into unhealthy knots by beating myself up for falling short of perfection and prioritizing rules that I didn't actually really believe matter myself (like coffee-drinking and length of sleeves, etc). Both helped me love myself and value my own well-being in the way that, on my truest and most balanced days, I believe God would want for me. In other words, some church members want all church members to wear blinders all along so they're not distracted by confusing/nonessential nuance and truth, and I've come to want those blinders off earlier and more culturally-endorsed early exploration of nuance, so it's not overwhelming and damaging when members realize they've been building their personal foundations on lies or half-truths.
P.P.S. And then I remind myself of lessons that I myself teach my English classes (because I think in metaphors and microcosms), and I remember how I tell my students that the "put a comma where you would pause while speaking" rule is a lie, which outrages them, but then I point out that they couldn't have understood the 11 more-accurate rules we learned without first learning parts of speech and types of clauses and sentence constructions and more, and "commas at pauses" is about as accurate as a kid in elementary school can understand! It improves their usage even if it causes them to develop errors too. Which is guess is the "milk before meat" principle, right? And so then I chase my tail in logical figures eight, and I can't escape because I'm obsessive (but not usually compulsive, whee!), and I have a meltdown. And what the tools-for-parents-with-struggling-kids website I found today when I was getting excited about doing extra research on my own after class said about how to help with meltdowns is: give the melting-downer an escape to a quiet, private place, and don't burden them with talking (additional stimulation) -- just sit with them while they calm back down again after too much sensory input. So I'm parenting myself, here, and my stepping away from church activity is my escape to a quieter place, and I'm trying not to beat myself up for reducing the church-based harmful-to-me input while I settle down and try to sort it all out. I don't know if I'll ever fully walk back into the overwhelming stimulus that is church for me again, but even if the church is exactly true in this moment (it's whole and completely developed, there is nothing more, hooray!), if God is loving and just, They'll probably be differentiating for me, anyway, and allowing/supporting a modified program for me so I can eventually reach the same outcomes as all the "standard" students, by coming at them sidewise rather than straight on. The cookie-cutter approach doesn't work for all learners, and while the church agrees that there are exceptions, it doesn't do well at implementing those for those that need them or even systemically identifying those that need exceptions, in my experience. So, uh, yeah. Here I am, which is not quite there. And it will probably be fine, once I can catch my breath again.
P.P.P.S. Hello, actual individual asker, KC! Congratulations on your wedding and on making choices that are accurate reflections of your understanding of what is healthy and pure and uplifting. I hope to develop equal integrity in my own actions, in time.
It feels a bit out of character for me to respond to a question like this, but I thought I would add another perspective. I hope that by doing so I don't diminish anything the above writers have said. I also want to acknowledge that I am straight, cis, and white, and have never had to face a dissonance so many others face in reconciling their identity with the church. I also agree that many have been hurt by not only the slow-paced changes of the church, but also by the backlash and TBM members switch codes and validate the same beliefs for which they ridiculed others in the past. I think this is wrong and harmful and the way the church at large balances individual and prophetic revelation (as well as change in general) should change.
With all that said, I feel... relatively hopeful. Yes, the changes are happening slowly and are not enough, but they are happening, and in a more zealous way than I have seen in my lifetime. I don't want to discount these small things that are happening, especially since I don't think there's anyway a major change would happen without small things like this laying the groundwork. There are also unofficial leaders like By Common Consent, Rosemary Card, Ty Mansfield, Calvin Burke, writes at The Exponent, and many others that provide so much hope to me for the future of the church as they further the discourse. I'm given hope by my bishop who doesn't have newlyweds give talks together, and will have an all-female sacrament program, and seems to listen intently to all concerns he hears. These are all small things, but it's been encouraging to me nonetheless.
I've also felt more hopeful as I've separate my own faith from the church as an organization. Even though organization as large as the church takes a great amount of time and concerted effort to change, I feel okay personally changing as I find truth. I don't feel the need to be perfectly inline with every lesson or conference talk, and I think that has been a really positive change in my life. I've also found many peers who do the same, and that, too, makes me more hopeful for the future of the church.
I want to say here again that I've managed to be in the church for a few decades and come out relatively unscathed by well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) but harmful people and doctrines. I recognize this is a luxury I have that not everyone does, and I don't mean to project my beliefs that have arisen from my experiences onto others. While I am hopeful, I want to be evermore aware of those who are not and the harmful aspects of the culture and doctrine.
Thanks for the question, and congratulations on your marriage!